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Sun, 03.02.1930

Douglass Hospital, Kansas City, MO. opens

"On this date in 1930, Douglass Hospital of Kansas City, MO opened.  The original building housed in Kansas City General Hospital No. 2, serving the indigent Black population of the city. 

When the new building opened, national public health experts joined the local communities in considering the new facility to be the finest Black public hospital in the nation, even rivaling some of the best white public hospitals with its (at the time) state-of-the-art equipment and modern architecture.  Chester Arthur Franklin, the founder of The Call newspaper and one of Kansas City’s most prominent Black leaders, greeted the newly constructed eight-story building by saying.  “They did not try to build something ‘good enough for Negroes’ but something as good as money could buy." 

If the history of General Hospital No. 2 in the 1920s and 1930s is considered alongside Black public hospitals in other American cities, the arrangement between the Thomas J. Pendergast white machine and the Black medical community appears to have worked to the advantage of the Black community. The public praise amassed on General Hospital No. 2, especially for the efforts of Thomas Unthank, its staff and administrators, as well as for the newly constructed building in 1930, seemed understandable in comparison with other Black city hospitals nationwide. Black patients maintained deeper trust for the care they would receive from doctors and nurses of their own race, and they generally did not have to wait in line behind white patients for treatment. Hospitals are usually not at the forefront of discussion about community formation and uplift, but in General Hospital No. 2, Blacks had successfully lobbied for an institution that they could be proud of and, at least in comparison to most other cities, rely on for their medical needs. 

None of these positive developments suggest that Black patients received equal care to the white patients at General Hospital No. 1, or that Black physicians had equal opportunities for professional growth to white doctors. Even under the best of circumstances, with political support from the Pendergast machine at its highest levels, the experiment faltered in the space of a decade, and the program was restructured in a way that left local Black doctors excluded from the professional opportunities available at the white hospital.  In sum, General Hospital No. 2 probably was the “best money could buy,” as originally described in The Call, but only in an ironic sense: increased funding, industrious physicians, and community support could not compensate for the effects of political corruption and overtly racist policies against Black doctors and patients.  Douglass Hospital operated independently until 1957.

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